It’s Official: Sci-Fi Movies Are Dumb

I doubt that anyone will be too surprised to hear that science fiction movies are rarely scientifically accurate. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Nonetheless, when actual rocket scientists weigh in on the issue, perhaps we should give their opinions some credence. If you’ve ever wondered which movies NASA thinks are the dumbest ever made, now’s your chance to find out.

During a recent day-long private conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, NASA experts pleaded with Hollywood to make science fiction movies less stupid, and compiled a list of some of the biggest offenders.

Big shock: ‘Armageddon‘ is high up there. You remember that one – the movie where the world’s greatest scientists determine that it would be easier to train a bunch of illiterate, wise-cracking oil drillers to pilot a space shuttle than it would be to train real astronauts how to drill a hole. Other dishonorable mentions include ‘The Core’, ‘Chain Reaction‘, and ‘The 6th Day‘.

So, what’s the dumbest movie ever made, according to NASA? That would be Roland Emmerich’s end-of-the-world disaster flick ‘2012‘. Personally, I think you could put just about any Roland Emmerich movie in this category.

I’m also glad to see NASA call out the bullshit New Age “documentary” ‘What the Bleep Do We Know?’ (the movie that would have us believe that water has feelings) as a huge load of pseudoscience bunk.

With that said, what movies does NASA like? One of the most realistic sci-fi movies is also one of the earliest – Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece ‘Metropolis‘. Also rated highly are ‘Contact‘ (a personal favorite), the original ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still‘, and ‘Jurassic Park’.

Surprisingly, the movie that tops NASA’s list is ‘Gattaca‘. I had a lot of problems with that film’s plausibility. I just don’t believe it would be feasible for the main character to totally eliminate any trace of hair, fiber, skin, and other DNA samples from everywhere he lives and works on a daily basis, among other issues. Nevertheless, NASA approves of its core scientific ideas.

I find it shocking that ‘2001: A Space Odysseydidn’t make the “best” list. Was that just an oversight?

For more on this subject, see the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which has more interesting articles about the scientific accuracy of movies like ‘Tron: Legacy‘ and ‘Iron Man 2‘.

[via Moviefone]


  1. “I find it shocking that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ didn’t make the “best” list. Was that just an oversight? ”

    Apes see huge granite block, use it to use a bone to create a weapon. Giant block discovered years later on moon, researchers “disappear?” (That part of the movie is a bit vague to me). Giant block discovered around Jupiter, so natually, man’s first voyage to anotehr planet is to investigate (they just happen to have a ship available). A computer becomes sentiant and kills the crew. One crewmember goes INTO this giant block, 5 minutes of phychodelic fractles, followed by the guy aging and degressing at phenominal rates. Yes, this is scientifically accurate!

    🙂 That being said, I LOVE that movie.

    • Josh Zyber

      The movie is speculative fiction (like all sci-fi), but there’s nothing you’ve just listed above that couldn’t have a scientific basis. Kubrick put years of research into the film, and worked with many top scientists to ensure its authenticity and plausibility.

      To date, I can still barely count on one hand the number of movies that have bothered to accurately depict the lack of sound in the vacuum of outer space. 2001 is of course the first movie that comes to anyone’s mind in that regard. Even alleged fact-based docudramas like Apollo 13 blatantly disregard that simple law of physics.

  2. My favorite astronomer – what, you don’t have a favorite? – Phil Plait also does some great pieces on plausibility. You can find them at his site Bad Astronomy. 🙂

  3. Andy Phillips

    Sunshine is my favorite sci-fi movie released in the past few years. It would be interesting to see what NASA would have to say about that movie.

  4. I’m surprised 2001 isn’t on the list as well…

    As for the ‘worst scientific offenders’, I’m surprised The 6th Day is in there. Sure, it’s unrealistic in terms of the highly advanced cloning technology and memory storage, but they can kind of be excused as a necessary plot device. After all, it’s no more outlandish than Blade Runner’s replicants, in that respect. And Blade Runner is in their top list!!! It may be the superior film (Still enjoy The 6th Day, though), but it can hardly be lauded as scientifically accurate.

    However, The 6th Day is rather good with a lot of its general extrapolations of futuristic devices. The self driving cars, fridges that remember your shopping lists, holographic displays everywhere (Perhaps a difficult and/or impossible technology to perfect, but let’s face it, scientists are trying their best!!!), and the whisper-craft are pretty damn well thought out, by none other than Ron Cobb and certainly more plausible in the near future than Blade Runner’s flying cars. 😉


    Actually, on the scienceandentertainmentexchange site, there’s a note that says “The article in the London Sunday Times on January 2, 2011 “To Absurdity and Beyond: NASA damns flaws in sci-fi films” incorrectly attributed a top-ten worst sci-fi films list to the Science & Entertainment Exchange. We were not involved in creating the list.” That article then seemed to trigger all the others…

    Also, check here:

    So basically, it’s all wrong anyway lol! Tut-tut, Josh… Took me about five minutes after I’d written my initial reply, to find that out… remember, check your sources lol! 😉

    • Josh Zyber

      Thulsa, you’ll note that I didn’t attribute the list to the Science and Entertainment Exchange. I just pointed to them as another source of similar info. Moviefone did attribute the list incorrectly (and I refer back to them as where I picked up on the story), but the post above links to two different news sources: The Australian and Adelaide Now. (I’m not sure why this story got more coverage in Australia, but those are what I found when I went digging.)

    • Josh Zyber

      On the subject of The 6th Day, I kind of enjoy it as a guilty pleasure, but its depiction of the near future is incredibly cheesy. In fact, I enjoy it *because* its depiction of the near future is incredibly cheesy. It’s filled with silly-looking aircraft, improbably technology, and goofy laser handguns that look like they were borrowed from the prop department of the original ‘V’ TV show. Ferchrissakes, it opens at an XFL game. The XFL!! 🙂

      And, scientifically, the instant cloning is total bullshit. Not only are the clones grown in minutes and retain the entire brain activity of the original host, they have all the developed muscle mass of an Austrian bodybuilder who works out for 5 hours every day.

      (Also, I don’t believe that Blade Runner made either NASA list.)

  5. A.J. Lehe

    Sorry, but I would have to include the 1953 War of the Worlds from Paramount. First, for best use of three-strip Technicolor (wires holding up Martian War Machines did not become visible until later Eastmancolor prints nullified Technicolor’s softening effects and, second for the alien: “we gonna kill everybody and everything” attitude. If you watch carefully the early scenes of the Martian Machines rising up on their ‘electronic legs’ you will see how cleverly the special effects guys followed H.G. Wells’ book. Love it!
    Special mention should go to Woody Woodpecker’s NASA stint in Destination Moon (Again, George Pal!).

  6. Yeah, one of the other articles mentioned Blade Runner… D’oh! so even in the repetitions, there were errors lol! Bit of a bizarre snowball effect on this thing… 😉 As you said, strange that it seems to have taken fire more in Aus, since it (seemingly, who knows) started in a British paper…

    I love the cheesy/fun side of The 6th Day too! 🙂 I always figured the lazer guns (Though I don’t think they ever call them such? Plasma/energy weapons, you think?) were a tribute to Logan’s Run. Those fire bursts from the muzzle are such a great classic touch! 😉 I was half expecting Arnie or one of the villains to shout “Run, Runner!” at some point. 😀

    • Josh Zyber

      I love “near future” sci-fi movies, the more ridiculous the better. Especially if the “future” they depicted is already past and they got everything wrong. Timecop is a lot of fun in this regard.

  7. It’s the cars in Timecop that do it lol! What always makes me laugh in ‘near future’ movies, is how MUCH they expect things to have changed.

    Films like Blade Runner, Escape from New York, Soylent Green (oohhh, the exciting video games we might have had by 1999!), at least have the virtue of being made far enough back, that now really WAS a reasonably distant future. 😉

    Though at least The 6th Day didn’t try to make out that we were conquering the stars by that point. I reckon we’ll be lucky to go back to the moon within the next two hundred years, let alone anywhere else. (And that’s barring any big disasters like meteor strikes, that put us back to the dark ages lol!)